By Matt Reese
It was a who’s who of Ohio legislators at Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s annual Ag Day at the Capital. Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda, Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, and president of the Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, and many others, were among the leaders in attendance.
Farm Bureau members were out in force on the sunny streets of Columbus to meet with those legislators and share their thoughts on the pertinent issues. Water quality was at the top of the list.
“Water quality is certainly our top issue. We are looking at H2Ohio and the impact it has and the dollars it is bringing into the western basin of Lake Erie. Every program has to have a starting point and H2Ohio is a great starting point to take some dollars to put behind practices that farmers can incorporate into their operations and make the best environmental decisions for their farm. Our members are very creative and they are coming forward with continued innovation to solve these challenges,” said Frank Burkett, OFBF president. “Life is all about relationships and these members are here building relationships with their legislator. That is what makes Ohio Farm Bureau strong, that’s what makes Ohio agriculture strong and that’s what makes American agriculture the best in the world.”
OFBF members took the opportunity to thank their legislators in person for the opportunities provided through H2Ohio that provides funding to farms to implement conservation practices. H2Ohio is currently being rolled out in northwest Ohio in concert with the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative (OACI). OACI is a collaborative effort of the agricultural, conservation, environmental, and research communities to improve water quality by establishing a baseline assessment of current nutrient management efforts and building farmer participation in a new Farmer Certification program.
In addition, OFBF members advocated for Senate Bill 2 that will establish watershed planning and management coordinators in seven regions of the state that will serve as a “quarterback” for watersheds in their regions by helping to organize water quality efforts and assisting SWCDs to identify sources and areas of water quality impairment. House Bill 7, which creates a long term funding mechanism for H2Ohio, was also highlighted.
The recent announcement about the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s intention — as opposed to the U.S. EPA — to create a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Western Lake Erie was another a topic of discussion. The announcement came following a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in front of U.S. District Judge James Carr.
“We have TMDLs pretty much everywhere in the state of Ohio. Most of our farmers are operating under one already or will soon be operating under one. It means you have a water body that’s impaired and that EPA needs to figure out what is the load that is impairing the watershed, what load can go into the watershed and what we can do to address it. What is the goal and what is the timeline for it? There is a whole process EPA puts in place to take a watershed from being impaired to being in the clear. There are many different reasons a watershed can be considered impaired and there are also different items causing it to be impaired,” said Yvonne Lesicko, vice president of public policy for OFBF. “The governor has had some tough decisions to make with this lawsuit and whether or not we are going to allow this to be a state driven process or a federally driven process depending on how Judge Carr decides on the case that is before him. We have so much more research to do on this. We do not know all of the solutions here. The Ohio EPA wants this to be an adaptive process that evolves as we address this. We want to be part of the solution and work with others to be a part of the solution as well.”
Another priority issue for OFBF is HB 183, which creates the Ohio Beginning Farmer Tax Credit program. Under HB 183, established landowners and farm producers can receive a state income tax credit when they sell or rent land or agricultural assets like machinery, building facilities, or livestock to a beginning farmer. The credit is equivalent to 5% of the sale price, 10% of the cash rent or 15% for a cash share deal. Beginning farmers can also receive a tax credit up to $1,500 for taking a qualified financial management course, but do not receive tax credits for buying land or other farm-related items. A beginning farmer is defined as:
- Intends to farm in Ohio, or has been farming in Ohio for less than 10 years.
- Has a household net worth of less than $800,000. This limit applies to 2019 and will be adjusted for inflation in future years.
- Provides the majority of the day-to-day labor and management of the farm.
- Has adequate farming experience or demonstrates adequate knowledge about farming.
- Submits projected earnings statements and demonstrates a profit potential.
- Demonstrates that farming will be a significant source of the individual’s income.
- Participates in a financial management program approved by the Department of Agriculture.
- Meets additional requirements set by the Department of Agriculture.
Broadband was another discussion topic for the day. According to a study by The Ohio State University, 1 million Ohioans — 11.7% of its residents — are underserved by reliable, high-speed Internet simply because of where they live. OFBF is supporting House Bill 13 to fund broadband access.